In the second week of Advent, we focus on peace, that the Christ-child came into the world to offer us peace. Peace, meaning the absence of conflict, of animosity, of antagonism. In the words of the angels on the night of His birth, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people he favors.” (Luke 2.14) And when the Prince of Peace returns one day, He will establish His kingdom of perpetual peace once and for all. However, the good news pf Advent is that this is a peace that we, as His people, already experience in the here and now. And so, the lectionary readings for the Second Sunday of Advent invite us into the peace that His coming offers us and that we desperately look forward to at His coming.
Old Testament: Isaiah 11.1-10
Of course, the prophecies of Isaiah are replete with messianic overtones, and this week’s Old Testament reading is no different. In verse 1, we read, “Then a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse,” which is Isaiah’s way of describing the Messiah according to His biological lineage descended from David, Son of Jesse. But the important thing about Him is what He will do, specifically how He will rule. Verse 2 of the passage tells us that, “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him.” In other words, Messiah will be anointed with the Spirit of God for the purpose of ruling in justice. And what we must understand is that a just rule, established in righteousness and faithfulness (verse 5), is a prerequisite for peace, because, “He will judge the poor righteously and execute justice for the oppressed of the land.” (verse 4)
And it is His just rule that establishes the idyllic serenity that Isaiah goes on to describe in verses 6-9. “The wolf (traditionally read as lion) will dwell with lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the goat,” etc. And notice in verse 9, “They will not harm or destroy each other on my entire holy mountain, for the land will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the sea is filled with water.” This is Isaiah’s vision for the reign of Messiah, that violence will be no more, that bloodshed and conflict will be no more. Oh, how we long for that day, because, “On that day the root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples. The nations will look to him for guidance, and his resting place will be glorious.” In other words, the reign of Messiah will be characterized by perfect peace.
Psalm: Psalm 72.1-7, 18-19
According to the traditional heading, this psalm appears to be a prayer that was written by King David (see verse 20) for his son and successor Solomon. David is praying for Solomon as he prepares to ascend to the throne. And so, in verse 1, we read, “God, give your justice to the king and your righteousness to the king’s son.” However, given the messianic implications of the term “son of David”, we must see this as a prayer for the perfect and peaceful rule of Messiah. “He will judge your people with righteousness and your afflicted ones with justice.” (verse 2) And again, “May he vindicate the afflicted among the people, help the poor, and crush the oppressor.” (verse 4) In other words, this psalm is an expression of longing for peace that is written on every human soul, and it reminds us that our longings for peace on earth will never be fully satisified by any human ruler or government. No, “Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone does wonders. Blessed be his glorious name forever; the whole earth is filled with his glory. Amen and amen.” (verse 18-19). There is a deep and severe longing in every human soul for the peace, and in this prayer, we affirm that it will only be realized with the coming of Messiah.
Gospel: Matthew 3.1-12
In the Gospel reading, then, we read of a familiar character in the Gospel accounts, namely John the Baptizer. And though we may not think of him in conjunction with the Christmas story, he is, nevertheless, important because of His role as herald. “For he is the one spoke of through the prophet Isaiah, who said: A voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight.” (verse 3) And so, as we think about our Lord’s Advent, we must recognize that John was the appointed herald to announce His initial arrival. And he did so my preaching, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (verse 2) This, by the way, is the same message that Jesus preached at the beginning of His ministry in Galilee.
But what makes this passage appropriate for Advent is what John says to the Pharisees and Sadducees who came out to be baptized. In verse 7, we read, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” Admittedly, it is somewhat awkward to read about wrath when we are supposed to be focusing on peace; however, John has hit on something that is important to understand about our Lord’s coming, namely that before there can be peace, there must be wrath. Evil must be dealt with, and the wicked must be removed so that peace can rise. And so, John proclaims that one who comes after him has “His winnowing shovel is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn. But the chaff he will burn with the fire that never goes out.” When our Lord Christ returns to in glory, He will bring with Him two things, peace for those who repent of their sins and wrath for those that do not. And so John tells us, “Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance.”
New Testament: Romans 15.4-13
And finally, in the New Testament reading, we can see exactly what kind of fruit that is, namely that we who have repented of our sins, trusted in Christ, and received His peace should show forth that peace toward others. As Paul puts it in verse 7, “Therefore accept one another, just as Christ also accepted you, to the glory of God.” In other words, we are called to be Christ’s agents of peace in the world; we give to others what we ourselves have already received. This is in keeping with Paul’s prayer in verse 13, where he prays, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” The point is that the foundation for peaceful human relationships is grounded in the finished work of the Christ-child.
And the proof of Paul’s point in this passage is the full and equal inclusion of the Gentiles in the people of God. In the first century, there was no more antagonistic vitriolic relationship as that between the Jews and the Gentiles, but Paul strings together a handful of Old Testament quotes in this passage to show that it was always God’s plan to bring the Gentiles into the kingdom of Messiah. So, all of a sudden, Jewish followers of Jesus were faced with a dilemma, namely how could they accept Gentile followers of Jesus into their communities as brothers and sisters in Christ. And Paul’s answer is that they can because they have received the peace of Christ. So, he prays, “Now may the God who gives endurance and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, according to Christ Jesus, so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with one mind and one voice.” This is the crucial point: He gives peace, we embrace peace, and He gets the glory.
May this Advent season bring you and yours all the peace of Christ that passes all understanding, and may we all show forth His peace to a world that is in so desperate need of it!
For Further Study:
On the Season of Advent
On the First Sunday of Advent